Pulitzer prize winning NY Times’ journalist John Markoff takes the AI/Robotics reader on a prize journey to AI Artificial Intelligence vs it’s antithesis: IA Intelligence Augmentation. True, you can’t tell the players without a scorecard folks, so Markoff provides 350 pages of detailed history into how AI/IA has evolved, paused and “gone cloud” from the 1950s to present.
Machines’ Foreword and the concluding chapter; Master, Slaves or Partners forms the core of Markoff’s AI v. IA journey for the reader. Here, he succinctly defines the origins of AI/IA and robotics, and the challenges facing our technologists and society as systems roll out into people’s lives – and livelihoods.
The intervening 330+ pages form an AI history, tracing back about 60 years. Markoff’s AI journey would make a “History of Rock” equivalent look like a mere napkin sketch. The author will leave many readers with far more questions than they had before immersion into Markoff’s incomparable review of AI research. They will be able to draw from the book’s depth for AI/Robotics for the inevitable scads of forthcoming AI/IA debates far better than be equipped for AI technology reviews or funding round arguments. AI/Robotics’ Market potential is not the focus of the book. Rather, Markoff’s AI vs IA interpretation forms the see-saw pivot of which research goal is “better.” The see-saw never pauses.
There is little Markoff doesn’t cover in his six-decade review of AI, albeit briefly. Examples: a few lines on Sony’s pioneering Aibo AI robot (many thousands sold at $2,000+ a pop) or IBM’s mighty Watson accomplishments; reduced to little more than a page. Still, if the book were a passport, it would need extra pages for all the visionaries, pioneers (those with arrows still in their backs) and scant harvesters of AI/Robotics’ market potential. Markoff also catches glimpses of the “humanity” of these individuals; which will lend fire to the debates as to whether AI/IA or something else was on their minds.
In Nicholas Negroponte’s 1995 Being Digital, the reader walked away clearly realizing the difference between physical commerce and solutions based on atoms, versus digital commerce, based on digital electron flows. Being digital was profound. And there was no going back.
After reeling from the histories of the many extraordinary scientists and engineers who form the foundations of AI research, and digesting the many fits and starts AI research has endured, many a reader might be left wondering “how far along the journey have we travelled?” Alas, no Google Maps answer for that question: “How much AI is enough?” is not fully reckoned with.
Consider, to many, Watson, Siri, Cortana and Amazon’s Alexa are already the stuff of the science fiction made real in apps, smartphones, PCs and cylinders thanks to an always connected world. A growing variety of premium cars now can brake, sense lane veering and hazards, faster than any human might. As author Markoff touches upon after driving such a car, the urge is to grab the wheel…yet this is a human problem. Many of these cars can act faster than the fastest Formula 1 driver’s reflexes. As Markoff summarizes: “It’s not about the machines.”
After reading Machines of Loving Grace, the reader is left with more questions than resolved answers. Yet, the reader now has the detailed Markoff bibliography to credit or blame or pursue for further resolution.
I would like to consider this book as “Volume 1” of at least a partial series. John will certainly continue to track and communicate AI/IA advances to broad audiences through his Times’ writings and perhaps follow-up texts. The “Common Ground” of the title is a work in process. Yet, it that process which may be the most important society-changing technology change challenging researchers and governments in coming decades.
Most AI researchers have their eyes on what AI/IA might do, what might be possible. Not on “what might possibly go wrong.” Or as Elon Musk, Steve Wozniak, Bill Gates and Steven Hawking have recently rallied, what might go terribly wrong!
To postscript Markoff’s last line; it’s about us. After reading this book, the reader will be able to leverage decades of AI wisdom to match their own appetite and eagerness for the coming, AI richer world. Are you ready?